Sunday, July 8, 2018

#Pakistan - OP-ED - Waris Mir’s battle against Zia

By Bashir Riaz

History will remember the decade-long dictatorial era of General Ziaul Haq (from 1977 to 1988) as the time when the fundamentalism bacteria started germinating in the marrow of this country, before turning into a cancer and finally eating out the vitals of our socio-political system.
Our social life is marred by various arbitrary interdictions and taboos imposed on us by sanctions of the clergy. The Zia regime promoted fundamentalism in Pakistan which subsequently strengthened extremist forces in society. Therefore, the Zia Martial Law is rightly held responsible for spreading the menace of terrorism and extremism in this country.
The rapid rise of the fundamentalist mindset and its influence on the national politics has no relevance to its support in the masses, keeping in view its meager presence in the elected parliament. However, the fact remains that the backers of the extremist ideology keep growing in our society with every passing day, almost three decades after Zia’s elimination in a plane crash. And that is why we must remember Prof Waris Mir.
Waris Mir, a professor at the Mass Communication Department of Punjab University, Lahore, although a beacon known and valued highly for his contribution to the field of journalism, has yet many facets to his personality that are worth idealisation. A top flight writer of his time, he was a Seer who wrote not only for the generation that was reading his writings on multi-dimensional issues, but also for the posterity that was yet to open its eyes in this social setup. “While a writer is penning down his concerns, he is not only writing for that particular day or era — he is rather putting together pieces of history for the posterity. But in this age [of Zia dictatorship], when the journalist/writer is not ‘allowed’ to put into black and white what the truth is, what element of precision or accuracy is he going to secure through writings?…. with enchained expression, it is not only the voice of the writer that is muffled but of that entire generation…”, so wrote Waris Mir in one of his articles in 1985.
Waris Mir’s greatest contribution to the decade of retrogression was that he challenged the gospel truth being indoctrinated through state media as the national premise. At that time, the Islamic Goebbels of General Zia’s military regime had firmly established that the founding fathers of Pakistan wanted religion to be the doctrinal spirit of the state and that the PNA movement of 1977 was a mandate of the people for it to be made the source of law and life in the state. Waris Mir confronted this official truth by proving through his well-researched and scholarly dissertations that the type of discriminatory and anti-people laws being enforced by the ruling junta at that time were not even correspondent to Islam itself. Islam, as he interpreted it, was more progressive than Zia’s Goebbels had deemed it to be.
Waris Mir’s greatest contribution to the decade of retrogression was that he challenged the gospel truth being indoctrinated through state media as the national premises
His finest contribution was a series of articles on women’s rights titled as Kya Aurat Aadhi Hai? (Is women half a human?) These articles, which were later published in a book form, castigated the clergy-sponsored and Zia-backed basis of the discriminatory laws against women, particularly repugnant of which was the new law of evidence which gave unequal significance to the testimony of men and women. Waris Mir also proved in the same series of articles that the family laws promulgated by the Ayub regime were closer to the spirit of Islam than the chauvinistic legislation being proposed by the Jamaat-e-Islami at that time. Waris Mir also defended westernised educated women and their right of coming out of their cloister and the rights of the working woman at the work place. His best loved columns during those days were written about some sensitive issues like the press freedom, referendum, non-party based elections and constitutional amendments.
From 1977 till his death on July 9, 1987 at the young age of 48, Prof Waris Mir was doing what he called establishing a tradition of rational discourse. In this period, he dwelt at length on the complex theme of development of thought in various cultures and the requisites of the state like fundamental human rights and civil liberties granted in the west and made men responsible for it. The recurring pattern in the writings of this period is enumeration of the objective conditions these ideas were up against and then a proposal of a mode of their application in our circumstances. The writings during this time were totally secular in spirit. They were also a cause of greater discomfort to the rulers because they presented a dissenting worldview.

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